From homeless to helper: How one woman transformed her life

Lauren Shweder Biel -  The Life You Want D.C.
Lauren Shweder Biel - The Life You Want D.C.

By LAUREN SHWEDER BIEL, founder of DC Greens and a 2014 Toyota Mother of Invention recipient

The formidable Jaspen Boothe took the stage for the Toyota Standing O-Vation, offering a pure example of a woman whose life experiences have illuminated her way. Having experienced homelessness as a veteran and stunned by the lack of services for the 55,000 female homeless veterans in the U.S., she founded a nonprofit called Final Salute, which provides female homeless veterans a place to live while they transition into full-time work. To date, Final Salute has helped 270 women veterans and their children. This is a woman in alignment with her calling. By the time that the Toyota Standing O-Vation took place to honor her, the room was almost vibrating with the magnetic energy of North.

A first-hand account of 'Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend':

Last weekend, I experienced the supreme pleasure of having Oprah Winfrey blow my mind. Amongst a capacity crowd at D.C.'s Verizon Center, I joined thousands of (mostly) women who had convened to be inspired by Oprah's "The Life You Want Tour."

I'll admit that I went into the event feeling that I already have the life I want. I have two beautiful children and a happy marriage. For the past five years, I have successfully been running and growing a nonprofit called DC Greens that I co-founded with a friend. I feel deeply fulfilled by the work of DC Greens, which connects communities to healthy food in the nation's capital. In fact, while receiving a Mother of Invention Award from Toyota last April at the Women in the World Summit, I stated publicly that I feel I am doing exactly what I was put here to do.

As Oprah took the stage on opening night of the weekend, she traced her life from rural segregation-era Mississippi to her current place as one of the most influential people in the world. More importantly, she shared what she has learned along the way, probing the driving question behind all of it: How did this happen?

Over two uplifting hours, Oprah shared her secrets with us. And first among them is: she listens to her "whispers."

She pays attention to the little voice in her head that tells her when something seems off, or when something feels just right. She takes time to tune into herself, and to listen. And why? Because she believes that each of us were put here to fulfill our calling, and to live the truest, highest expression of ourselves as human beings. And we each get to figure out what that is for us, with our "whispers" as our guides. Like a compass.

Now I have my own version of "whispers." I call it "following my goosebumps," and it has served me well since my twenties. Much like "whispers," this technique has ensured that my own passions have been my guide.

What I realized while listening to Oprah is that at some point along the way, I had abandoned my compass, thinking that I had arrived. I was no longer listening to my whispers. No longer heeding my goosebumps.

But none of us has ever arrived. As Oprah reminded the crowd, "you have no idea what your legacy will be... Until you take the last breath, you're still on the climb. Still on the journey." If we keep listening to our whispers, and following our goosebumps, the path will take us where we're meant to be.

The second day of the Life You Want Tour was equally grounding – workshops, guided visualizations, and concrete examples of people who have lived by their own lights and thrived. All of it taking place in a stadium of striving people, searching for their compasses, and ready to follow their own paths.

I have the life I want. But now that I'm back on the journey with my compass at the center, I can't wait to see where this life will lead.

This post is part of a series from Toyota's Mothers of Invention who are attending Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend.